Man’s bingo pinball machines attract worldwide interest

CHRISTINE LEE
(Pottsville) Republican-Herald
The backglass on a Bally's bingo pinball machine featuring Coney Island that is part of the collection of Butch Glauda in Pottsville, Pa., on Thursday, November 11, 2021. Glauda and his son Mike Glauda have plans to open a museum in Pottsville with the machines. (Jacqueline Dormer/Republican Herald via AP)

POTTSVILLE, Pa. — It began with one bingo pinball machine Butch Glauda got when he was a teenager.

“My uncle (Michael Joseph) bought me my first one when I was 17,” he said.

Glauda, 81, got the Yacht Club bingo pinball machine — built between 1954 and 1955 — in 1957.

Today, the Pottsville resident has more than 300 bingo pinball machines, the largest collection in the country.

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The oldest of the machines was made in 1951, the year the two main manufacturers, Bally and United, began making them. They were purchased from private owners and large bingo pinball machine operators.

“It took my whole life to get what we have,” Glauda said.

At one time, Glauda said he had more than 400 machines. However, over the years, he has sold some of them. That allowed him to get parts for the bingo pinball machines he still has. It also freed up space.

“I was running out of room,” Glauda said.

He collected the machines as a side project while working as a crane operator at the former Bethlehem Steel, as well as a substitute police officer and cab driver.

Butch Glauda, of Pottsville, Pa., talks about his bingo pinball machine collection in Pottsville, Pa., on Thursday, November 11, 2021. Glauda and his son Mike Glauda have plans to open a museum in Pottsville with the machines. (Jacqueline Dormer/Republican Herald via AP)

Glauda and his son, Mike Glauda, hope to show the public the machines by opening a museum at 530 and 532 S. Centre St. in Pottsville. The museum would be housed in two buildings, one at 530 S. Centre St. and a second that will be constructed at 532 S. Centre St.

Unlike the traditional pinball machines, bingo pinball machines don’t have flippers on the side. Instead, users put a coin in the machine, press the plunger and the ball lands into a numbered pocket, or hole, on the machine board. An electronic number on a corresponding board on the backglass scoring area lights up when the ball lands in the pocket. A monetary prize is awarded if a user gets five numbers in a row, with proceeds paid out to the owner.

Because the machines were considered a form of gambling, they were often deemed illegal and taken by law enforcement. The last time a bingo pinball machine was made was in 1988.

Glauda has become well known in the world of bingo pinball machine enthusiasts.

Over the years, he has displayed them at shows across the country and in Canada, where he has earned the nickname “Bingo Butch.” He said they have garnered interest from people in countries around the world, such as Sweden and Australia, and the collection is featured in books on bingo pinball machines by Jeffrey Lawton. Many people have said they want to see them in person, with someone saying they would be willing to come all the way from the Land Down Under to see the collection, according to Glauda’s son, Mike.

The playing field on a Bally's bingo pinball machine featuring women playing baseball that is part of the collection of Butch Glauda on S. Centre Street in Pottsville, Pa., on Thursday, November 11, 2021. Glauda and his son Mike Glauda have plans to open a museum in Pottsville with the machines. (Jacqueline Dormer/Republican Herald via AP)

“People that were talking to us were saying, ‘You should have a museum,’ ” Butch Glauda said. “It will show them this actually exists.”

Lawton also had a hand in inspiring them to plan the museum. Mike Glauda said Lawton was astonished at his father’s collection. Butch Glauda provided the information for Lawton’s books, “The Bingo Pinball War: United vs Bally, 1951-1957,” published in 2010, and “Bally Bingo Pinball Machines,” published in 1999.

“The only person that had what he needed for his book, photographs of a real machine, was my father,” Mike Glauda said.

The machines have gained so much interest from people around the country and the world that Mike and Butch Glauda started a Facebook group, “Bally/United Bingo by Bingo Butch,” in 2019. As of Monday, it had more than 500 members.

“People from around the world ask us questions and we try to help them out the best we can,” Mike Glauda said.

While they know of 10 museums nationwide devoted to traditional pinball machines, there are none for bingo pinball machines.

Bally's 1951 Broadway bingo pinball machine that is part of the collection of Butch Glauda in Pottsville, Pa., on Thursday, November 11, 2021. Glauda and his son Mike Glauda have plans to open a museum in Pottsville with the machines. (Jacqueline Dormer/Republican Herald via AP)

“It’s so hard to get them as a lot of these were destroyed and can’t be replaced,” Butch Glauda said. “Old guys, like me, that played them when they were younger, they get a kick out of them.”

Mike Glauda, who has been fixing the machines since he was a teen, said trying to wrap his head around what his dad has done isn’t easy.

“For me to fathom what my father has accomplished is very hard,” he said.

Starting a collection isn’t easy, Butch Glauda said, as many of the machines aren’t available. Both Bally and United stopped making them in 1978.

The Glaudas appeared at a recent Pottsville City Council meeting to ask the governing body to approve the museum plans. City officials told them the buildings have to abide by city code and a museum needs the approval of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Mike Glauda said their attorney, Frank Corry, Pottsville, is working with the commission to be recognized as a museum. Butch Glauda said a museum would allow the public to see the machines for themselves.

“They can see it for real,” Glauda said. “Not only see it, but play it.”